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NEWS from the Office of the New York State Comptroller
Contact: Press Office 518-474-4015

DiNapoli: LIRR Must Better Prepare for Severe Weather to Prevent Service Disruptions and Costly Damages

March 13, 2024

The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) needs to do more to properly prepare for severe weather events, according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The audit found the LIRR delayed a critical weather-related systemwide risk assessment of its infrastructure for over a decade and failed to complete several resiliency projects on-time following Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“Severe weather is becoming more common and a failure to properly plan and be prepared will cause more commuter headaches like train delays and service disruptions,” DiNapoli said. “While extreme weather such as blizzards, heavy rain, wind storms or heat waves cannot be prevented, railroad officials need to be prepared to minimize its impacts. The LIRR is the busiest train system in North America and is the primary means of transit from Long Island to New York City which means it must be prepared to operate as effectively as possible during all weather conditions.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) oversees the LIRR, which serves about 200,000 customers on weekdays. The LIRR has 700 miles of track, stretching from Montauk on Long Island to Penn Station and Grand Central in Manhattan to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn and Hunters Point Avenue station in Queens. The audit review period was from April 2009 to January 2023.

Systemwide Risk Assessment Delayed

Auditors found that a systemwide weather-related risk assessment of the LIRR’s transportation facilities to identify and address how to lessen the impacts of severe weather had not been completed as of February 2024. This delay left the agency at risk and their system vulnerable to damage if hit by another major storm. The LIRR said the risk assessment would be completed by the end of 2023.

Snow Removal Equipment Could Not Be Located

To address the impacts of a winter storm, certain equipment is required to be on hand. However, auditors found instances where generators, chainsaws, light towers, and front loaders to remove snow were not at their designated locations as required. LIRR officials said much of the equipment was being used in the field but there was no documentation to show their location.

Auditors also found equipment to remove snow and clear tracks was not properly maintained, inspected, or tested. On a review of 13 pieces of snow-fighting equipment, there was no documentation to support they were ready to be used for at least one of the five seasons reviewed.

Superstorm Sandy Projects Delayed

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy shut down LIRR service systemwide for days and cost the rail line millions of dollars in damages. Following the Superstorm, the LIRR started 15 capital projects totaling over $568 million to repair damages and to improve resiliency efforts. Auditors reviewed four of the projects, including a rebuild of the Atlantic Avenue Tunnel and resiliency improvements at the Long Island City and West Side Storage Yards. They determined none of the projects were completed on time and two exceeded their respective budgets.

Extreme Weather Plans Not Updated Regularly

Auditors found the LIRR is not regularly updating their extreme weather plans, which are meant to guide employees in how to safely maintain service during severe weather. From January 2018 through January 2022, important recommendations following severe weather events were often not included in the guidance or documented if implemented.

DiNapoli recommends the LIRR:

  • Complete its systemwide risk assessment;
  • Update its extreme weather guidance and verify newly added recommendations are implemented;
  • Improve winter weather monitoring and tracking;
  • Revise its Hurricane Guide to include written procedures and required steps in preparation for the season and ensure compliance;
  • Expand written procedures to account for the supply, maintenance and location of equipment, and locate missing equipment items;
  • Establish clear and complete written procedures to address the maintenance, inspection and testing process of equipment.

In response, the MTA said the systemwide risk assessment was not delayed, but underway and steps have been taken to identify, access, analyze and test weather-related risks. The MTA also added that the Superstorm Sandy projects were not behind schedule and extreme weather guidance for employees has been updated based on lessons learned from the storm.

Mitigation for Extreme Weather Conditions and Flooding

Related work
A Review of Capital Needs at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Financial Outlook for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Metropolitan Transportation Authority—Long Island Rail Road – Rolling Stock Programs Department – Selected Aspects of the M9 Rail Car Project Management (Follow-Up)